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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Educate a girl, Develop a nation

Educate a girl, develop a nation. Taken out of context, this statement may not make sense to some people, who would scratch their heads out of confusion. Actually, half of the humanity (girls and women) is still suffering of various forms of discrimination.

Educate a girl, Develop a nation

One of the most common forms is the lack of access to formal education to girls and women. In developed countries, access to formal education for all sexes is a topic long overdue as women’s rights activists have successfully managed to bring forth gender equality in this area. Now one of their main concerns is gender equality in wages. Unfortunately, developing countries are far from this level of economic development.

Several cultural, social, economic and political customs still tie women from the developing world to their roles of mothers and wives only. Hence, we have numerous patriarchal African societies that maintain women’s oppression with practices such as female circumcision, early marriages, polygamy, and multiple pregnancies.

In Asia, female infanticide, selective abortion and neglect of female children as well as a preference for sons over daughters are the few reported indicators of the existing gender bias in this other part of the world.

Neglecting girls and women will only deepen the wide existing poverty gap between rich and poor countries. In fact, women play a huge role in the development of their respective countries. However, women’s work is generally devalued or unreported by economists and policymakers because women are often relegated to sectors such as agriculture, the informal sector, and unpaid family work or domestic activities. Several studies have shown that educating a girl will be beneficial for the whole community as she will be directly involved with their rearing of children, the future of the nation.

A mother who has received a certain level of formal education is more likely to be actively involved in the schooling of her children. Additionally, she is more likely to make educated decisions about her children’s future and would avoid discouraging them from furthering their formal education. Formal education will give an opportunity to most women to review and possibly challenge the established norms of her society, precisely those against women. At a personal level, a woman’s formal education will open doors to better job opportunities; this is an economical asset not only for herself but also for her family and her community.

The economical stability that comes with the level of education would protect women from abusive romantic relationships or marriages. However, it is important to stress that formal education surely needs to be paired with informal education if we aspire to have well-balanced citizens.

At any rate, women with informal education only should be considered less important than those with formal education. Both parties have a lot to offer to their families, their communities and their countries. The most challenging ground to this revolution will probably be a change of mindset.

Women’s and men’s social roles are often rigidly established in developing countries. For example, a higher social status given to married couples and particularly married women--whether they are educated or not. Some of my friends from Asia and Africa have told me that a women’s marital status is still highly valued over her level of education in their home countries.

This is unfortunate that a woman’s worth is based on her family or her husband’s social status. I thought about how governments and citizens of developing countries as well as the rest of the world need to put an honest and dedicated emphasis on women’s formal education because the future of developing nations depends on it.